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Committee backs extending Saskatoon Transit sick leave consultant

Saskatoon Transit union president Jim Yakubowski, seen here in September of 2015, told a city council committee he opposes extending a pilot project to manage sick leave by an external consultant. (GREG PENDER/The StarPhoenix)

Greg Pender / The StarPhoenix

A Saskatoon city council committee backs extending a pilot project by an external consultant to help manage employee absences, despite a union’s concern the work duplicates existing resources.

Members of the environment, utilities and corporate services committee voted unanimously on Monday to recommend to city council that a one-year experiment to manage absences by Saskatoon Transit employees be extended by another year.

Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU) Local 615 president Jim Yakubowski appeared before the committee to argue against the move. Yakubowski said transit employees do not have an absenteeism problem and a program is already in place to handle employee absences.

Bridges Health, a Saskatoon-based company that specializes in ensuring employees’ health care needs are met at work, was contracted by the city for the year-long pilot project for about $75,000.

“There’s no necessity to farm that work out to an outside entity,” Yakubowski said. “Our supervisors are dealing with the medical leave issue.”

The Bridges pilot project is supposed to focus on employees experiencing an ongoing medical condition that results in 10 or more consecutive absences. Jeff Jorgenson, the city’s acting general manager of corporate performance, said there were some “challenges” with the scope of the pilot project, but those have been resolved.

A city report says 50 of the 65 employees considered to have taken part in the pilot project experienced a reduction in sick leave. The other 15 experienced an increase in sick leave.

Between March and December 2016, employees in the program experienced an overall nine per cent reduction in absenteeism.

Extending the project for a year is expected to cost about $70,000, assuming 50 employees continue to take part in it, the report says.

The cost of moving the work to internal city hall resources would require a halftime employee at a cost of about $20,000 less, the committee heard.

The rate of absenteeism in Saskatoon Transit had been increasing prior to the Bridges project, the report says. In 2015, transit employees took 4,208 days of sick leave, which dropped to 3,649 days in 2016, a decrease of 13.2 per cent, the report says.

Yakubowksi said the pilot project duplicates the existing daily attendance management program. Jorgenson said city hall officials see advantages to both continuing with the pilot project and doing the work internally.

“We want the best data we can possibly get,” Jorgenson said.

Coun. Troy Davies said he sympathizes with the health concerns of transit employees, who face a high degree of stress.

“Our No. 1 priority has to be our staff,” Davies said. Saskatoon Transit has about 420 employees, Yakubowski said.

City council must grant final approval to continuing the pilot project.

ptank@postmedia.com

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